Engaged Communities, Strong Communities

This is the fourth installment in a series highlighting the 2014 Voice of the People Award winners. The Voice of the People Awards recognize outstanding communities as identified by The National Citizen Survey.

 

 

Strong community engagement allows residents to participate in the decisions made by local government and stay informed about upcoming projects and policies. Reaching the most residents possible is always challenging and communities are constantly experimenting with new methods to reach residents. This year’s Voice of the People Award winners for Community Engagement have made a point of involving residents and gathering their feedback to best serve their respective communities.

 

Bainbridge Island, WA

Bainbridge Island invites residents to take place in the planning process for new projects and policies in the community.

 

The City of Bainbridge Island works with residents to gather community input on city projects resulting in active community engagement. Bainbridge Island collaborates with citizen advisory groups, local non-profits, business leaders and business associations. The new community engagement specialist position is dedicated to developing and implementing strategies to keep citizens informed and engaged.

 

Historically, Bainbridge Island has engaged citizens in project design and development through open meetings, direct mailings, partnerships with local non-profits and social media use. During the redevelopment of Waterfront Park, the city partnered with Sustainable Bainbridge to gather public input from local citizen groups. The city has established 14 citizen advisory groups that advise the city council on issues facing the community such as transportation and development; the creation of these groups has led to increased citizen participation and better communication with city officials.

 

Additionally, the Bainbridge Island Police Department participates in around 25 community events every year. The city just launched its first annual Volunteer Celebration which recognizes volunteers from Bainbridge Island schools, citizen advisory groups and other volunteers from the community. From 2010-2013, the Bainbridge Island Rotary Auction has raised almost one million dollars and saw over 1,200 Bainbridge Island residents participating and volunteering (see a video of the event here). In the future, Bainbridge Island wants to focus on reaching younger residents, younger families and ferry commuters who have all been tougher to reach with existing community engagement programs.

 

Weston, MA

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City agencies in Weston, MA work with community groups and citizens to work towards city priorities.

 

The Town of Weston has used a variety of communications strategies and platforms to reach residents and bolster community engagement. The town has increased its social media use to reach residents quicker as well as an email and text subscription service to update residents. In order to encourage more involvement in community volunteer boards and committees, the Weston Board of Selectmen adopted a policy of widely publicizing and advertising vacant volunteer positions to broaden the candidate base.

 

Community involvement in Weston is exemplified by the process for the new town public works facility. A project that had previously been defeated in the town meeting approval process was approved unanimously the second time around after a series of public information meetings, tours of the old facility, publishing FAQs relating to the project and meetings between town officials and community groups. Weston’s branch of the League of Women Voters host Coffee Hours, a public information meeting where town officials, town boards and committees can discuss upcoming projects or pressing issues with residents. In the future, Weston looks to gather feedback on improving the town meeting process and continuing its strong community engagement.

 

See the full Weston, MA presentation here.

 

Brownsburg, IN

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Year-round events in Brownsburg foster an active and involved community.

 

The Town of Brownsburg has made community engagement top priority. The town’s new media and engagement activities seek to increase transparency. Further steps taken by Brownsburg to boost community engagement include a State of the Town address to the chamber of commerce, public input and participation in the town’s 2012 comprehensive plan, community focus groups and outreach events.

 

In 2011, Brownsburg hired its first communications professional to increase local media coverage and provide regular messaging to the community. The website was overhauled in 2013 with responsive design to optimize the site for viewing on mobile devices. New website features include a blog, a maps module for capital projects, and a tabbed layout for department pages to make navigation easier. Mobile phone apps give users quick and easy access to the Town’s web content. New communications activities include social media use, email newsletters, live-streaming video of public meetings and Plain Speaking, the weekly Brownsburg Town Council radio show.

 

The Town Manager, Assistant Town Manager and Economic Development Director are active Twitter users providing regular updates on upcoming municipality plans and projects. A bi-monthly town hall meeting started in 2012 allows residents to bring questions and concerns to town officials and administrators. These meetings give citizens a chance to participate in discussions about plans for the community. Additionally, a resident advisory committee meets regularly with the town manager to discuss town goals and projects to represent community interests.